The Duster finds a natural habitat on gravel roads with its 210mm ground clearance and comfortable ride.
The Duster finds a natural habitat on gravel roads with its 210mm ground clearance and comfortable ride.

Renault’s Duster has become a success story because of its appealing mix of affordability and honest performance.

In a segment of ever more road-focused crossovers and SUVs it has gained a reputation as one of the more dirt-capable family vehicles. The recently launched second-generation Duster has maintained the same formula and kept things affordable, but it’s been perked up with improved refinement, new styling and a fuller spec sheet.

The styling makeover involves a bolder new look that’s enhanced by front and rear skid plates, LED daytime running lights and a chrome grille, while the cross-style tail lights are somewhat plagiarised versions of the Jeep Renegade’s.

The quality of the previously plasticky interior has been improved.
The quality of the previously plasticky interior has been improved.

The range-topping Duster 4x2 model on test here, the 1.5dCi Prestige EDC auto, gets added visual jewellery in the form of black and satin chrome roof bars, where the other versions have black bars.

The Duster’s positioning as one of the more adventure-based vehicles in the compact SUV class has been underlined by its ground clearance being raised to a lofty 210mm, along with better approach and departure angles. The 4x4 version — to be launched here early next year — will also be equipped with hill descent control.

The interior has undergone a metamorphosis. Version one had a rather low-rent interior, which Renault has addressed with a classier new interior execution. At this price point you’re still not getting a soft-touch dashboard, but the hard plastics look more premium with their new texturing.

Ergonomically, the Duster has taken a step forward by acquiring a steering column that can now adjust for both reach and rake, allowing for a more varied range of different-sized drivers to find a comfortable position behind the wheel.

For a compact SUV it has decent cabin space for a quartet of adults, though taller folk sitting at the back will have their knees touching the front backrests. The boot is a practical 478l in size and the rear seats flip down to expand cargo room. Cabin oddments space is generous and includes a drawer under the front passenger seat.

Initially the vehicle is available in a line-up of 4x2 petrol and diesel versions.

The diesel offering comprises a choice of the 1.5dCi Dynamique 4x2 five-speed manual with outputs of 66kW and 210Nm and the six-speed EDC automatic, which uses a more powerful version of the 1.5 engine that sends 80kW and 250Nm sent to the front wheels.

The automatic sells in Dynamique and more well-specced Prestige versions, but all Duster models come standard with a reasonably well-stocked spec sheet, including cruise control, aircon, ABS brakes, electronic stability control and dual front airbags.

It’s the automatic Prestige version on test here, which as the flagship of the range sells for R334,900 and comes with additional niceties like automatic climate control, side airbags and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation. It also has driver aids, including blind spot detection and a reversing camera.

The engine outputs might seem humble but they translate into fairly easygoing performance. The Duster darts about the urban jungle with punchy acceleration once some initial turbo lag is shaken off, and it’s happy on the open road too.

Our test vehicle sipped a reasonably economical 6.2l/100km in a mixture of town and freeway driving, though the optimistic factory-claimed 4.8l seemed out of reach.

Renault has worked on improving the Duster’s refinement and this is evident in the vehicle’s soft-spoken nature; it hums along without the occupants needing to raise their voices too much.

What surprised me most was the neat handling abilities, more car-like and confidence-inspiring than I expected for a vehicle with such a high ground clearance. The electric power steering felt almost abnormally light, however, and some drivers might prefer to have more feel in the turning process. But the flipside is that it makes the Duster child’s play to manoeuvre in tight urban confines.

Renault’s suspension engineers have done a great job in terms of ride comfort, and the Duster very competently absorbs the bumps of rough gravel roads.

More sophisticated but still with its attractive price point, the new Duster should be a strong contender for SA’s 2019 car of the year title.

: The styling revamp includes new tail lamps with a cross motif.
: The styling revamp includes new tail lamps with a cross motif.


Standard features

Electronic stability programme, hill-start assist, ABS brakes, four airbags, electric windows, electric mirrors, climate control, central locking and starting with hands-free card, blind spot warning, reversing camera, multiview camera, cruise control, touchscreen audio and navigation system with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, tilt/ telescopic steering wheel adjustment